About five years ago, Chinese skaters began making quite a splash (so to speak) on the international figure-skating scene, mostly with pairs teams. Pairs (and dance) had long been the domain of the Soviet/Russian skaters, but the Russians have moved much more into singles skating (Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin, Yvgeny Plushenko, Maria Butryskaya, Irina Slutskaya) as the government lost its hold on the Red Army sports machine.
China seems to have stepped into that void in pairs skating, very successfully, with more singles skaters also starting to come up the ranks.
Watching the Olympics, it’s clear that skating isn’t the only sport where China seems to be making a serious effort in fielding teams – diving and gymnastics are two more, and they just mentioned someone who won the first-ever Chinese medal in track and field. (Sorry, wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention, don’t know who or the event.)
Question – and there is a question embedded in this – at what point did China start developing programs to train world-class athletes? What is the political point of this? And is there any political significance to which team/individual events are being pushed (cf. Soviet pairs vs. Western singles dominance in skating during the Cold War)?